Build a Diddley Bow

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It’s not difficult to build a diddley bow, or one-stringed guitar. I saw a video of Jack Black making and playing one and thought, “I want to do that!”

Here are the materials, most of which I picked up at a hardware store.

1 – 2X4

3 long nails

4 smaller nails

1 long carriage bolt

2 washers

3 nuts

1 empty bottle

1 guitar chord

1 guitar pickup

1 ¼”audio jack

As for tools, you will need a hammer, a drill and a soldering iron or gun.

Give yourself a few hours between emptying the bottle and beginning the project. You may not want to work with tools when drunk. I don’t judge.

Start with a section of 2×4. I had Home Depot cut a three-foot piece. Willie Joe Duncan played a seven-foot beast that he dubbed The Unitar. Apparently, it was hinged in the middle for folding and travel. You might want to start smaller, but I’m not going to shoot down your lofty monochord ambitions. I digress. Drill a centered hole about an inch from one end. This is for the carriage bolt.

Add the carriage bolt, two washers and a nut to the 2×4. Follow the order of: carriage bolt, washer, wood, washer then nut. The washers keep the bolt and nut from digging into the wood.

Go to the other end of the 2×4. On the topside with the carriage bolt poking through, center a nail about an inch from the end and hammer it in. The nail and bolt will be where you attach the guitar chord.

Lay the bottle next to the nail. Hammer in the nails to hold the bottle in place.

String the guitar chord from the centered nail to the centered post. The cord will lie over the bottle. The bottle acts as a bridge and it amplifies. You can also use a Mason jar. Use two nuts to clamp the string to the carriage bolt.

You now have an old-timey diddley bow!

Now you want to be loud, so you’re going to add the guitar pickup. I found a pack of two for cheap on Amazon.

I used some scrap wood as a mount for the pickup. Using the four smaller nails, nail the mount to topside of the 2×4. The pickup should come with screws, so fasten it to the mount. The chord should be positioned slightly higher than the pickup. You can adjust the nuts on the carriage bolt to a comfortable height.

Solder the audio jack to the pickup wire. The tip is positive and the ring is negative. Now you’re ready to plug in and play. As an amateur luthier, I’d just like to say that a distortion pedal is extremely forgiving and lets you crank it up to 11.

I play the diddley bow like a slide guitar. Mini liquor bottles make excellent slides. You don’t need to match bottles, but my Kraken bow came together nicely. You can pluck or strike the string. Try using the same sized nails that hold in the bottle.

After your first project, you might feel like experimenting. I like my diddley bows to sound raucous and untutored. If you want more control over the sound, you could forego the carriage bolt and mount a tuning peg or machine head so that you can tune the string. I also decided to forego the bottle and used two carriage bolts on either end to mount a garage door torsion spring. With drumsticks, it’s much more percussive than melodic. It’s more industrial, like Einsturzende Neubauten.

Let me know how it goes, and we can have a single-string jam.

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